Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly points out a conversation between CNN anchor John King and Sen. Mitch McConnell on State of the Union this past weekend:
KING: If you ask the White House about this, it highlights — they say it’s not just the president, it’s not just Attorney General Holder, that General David Petraeus says he believes a public trial at a federal courthouse is the best way to do it so that it’s not an al Qaeda recruiting tool.
That Secretary Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration at the Defense Department, also they believes a trial in the federal court system is preferable to a closed trial in the military commission. And that the CIA operatives leading the fight against these guys in Yemen, in Somalia, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, also believe that if you did it in a closed setting in a military commission it would be a powerful recruiting tool.
If General Petraeus, Secretary Gates, and the intelligence leaders say, do it in court, why do you say that’s a bad idea?
MCCONNELL: I simply disagree and so do the American people.
I’ve got two problems with this statement. First of all, this is not a simple issue. As King makes clear in his question, many people involved in prosecution of the nation’s laws (and wars) – he cites our experts in that field as an example – believe that trying terrorists for their crimes here in the US is the right thing to do. Moreover, if you’ve ever read the Constitution, or if you believe in due process (one of the major foundations of this great country), you would know that at the very least, the case for prosecuting these criminals in civilian courts is compelling, firmly rooted judicial precedent, and definitely procedurally possible. But McConnell, as is typical of Republican obstructionists, just “simply disagrees.” He does continue opening and closing his mouth after this statement, but the words that come out (“blah blah we need to interrogate them, because no criminals ever got caught or provided information to law enforcement before Bush was in office and allowed infinite detention and torture, OMG you GUYS!! they might EsCApE!!!1! ) don’t address why we should violate due process and appropriate precedent, i.e. don’t answer King’s question.
This leads me to my second issue with Senator McConnell’s proclamation: namely, that because the “American people” don’t want terrorist trials in the US, they must be right and he must not think about the issue any more. But the “American people” Sen. McConnell is most likely referring to are regular old office workers, plumbers, store clerks, whatever, and not Senators of the United States of America. While some random Joe Shmoe from Frankfurt might not know about the historical and Constitutional importance of due process and a fair trial when one has been accused of breaking Federal law, the Senate Minority Leader should be able to at the very least, give a coherent argument against it if that’s going to be his official position. McConnell presumably isn’t so empty headed to know that this is a multifaceted and complex issue, but his head is so full of his job security and the Republican insistence that US politics is a zero-sum game that he can’t bring himself to articulate a response to a very direct question. The vast, vast majority of every Congressional delegate’s constituency are not very knowledgeable about the intricacies of politics and law; that’s exactly why we elect representatives who can take the time to inform themselves and make good decisions with that information. McConnell, along with many other politicians on the right and the left, seem to conflate this basic premise of representational democracy with the idea that because your constituents don’t think too much about policy, you shouldn’t think too much about policy either.